The study was conducted in Wolayita zone of Southern, Nations, Nationalities and People Regional State with the objectives to explain its production systems, breeding practice with major constraints of sheep productivity. Purposive sampling techniques were employed to select target farmers. Structured questionnaire, focused group discussions, secondary data sources and field observations were used to generate the required data. A total of 184 households were selected from four woredas (8 rural kebele) in both weyna-dega and dega agro-ecologies. The survey results revealed that the overall total family size and land holding were 6.4 and 1.1 ha, respectively and the overall mean sheep holding was 5.2 sheep per households. The purpose of keeping sheep was as source of income followed by manure and meat production. The key feed resources in both agro-ecologies were communal grazing and private pastures. Most important causes of sheep mortality in the study were disease and parasite, water and nutritional deficiency, drought and absence of animal clinic. The overall mean value of age at first lambing, lambing interval and twining rate are 13.5, 7.9 months and 1.5 lambs, respectively. The constraints that delay sheep production in the study area was feed and grazing land shortages disease, drought, labor shortage, water shortage and loss of sheep by predators with index value of 0.30, 0.24, 0.16, 0.15, 0.09 and 0.05, respectively. It was concluded that indigenous sheep had a potential for multipurpose role to generate income for smallholders. Therefore, genetic improvement program should aim at farmers need to cope with trait preference and existing traditional herding and breeding practice.
Key words: Sheep production system, breeding practice, selection criteria, trait preferences.
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